The 3rd GO! Cartoon, “City Dwellers,” stars Bruce the tree and Biff the beaver, dog walkers with just ONE rule to follow: don’t let the ninja dog attack any samurai. The cartoon is 5 minutes short… anyone want to guess how long ‘til a samurai gets got?
It’s no surprise that Bruce and Biff march to the drum of their own beat: their creator, Grant Kolton, is a stalwart independent. As a freelance animator/director, Grant’s done it all: from sending Cage the Elephant sliding down a space whale’s intestines, to re-imagining a legendary ‘Shaq-attack’ in honor of the BBaller’s Hall of Fame induction. We picked his brain about inconvenient sequins, the dental services provided by your favorite big animation studios, and the nutritional value of Snoop Loops.
And if you guessed “a minute” above, you’re not wrong.
So what inspired “City Dwellers”?
That’s going back a ways… I first pitched in fall of 2014. I actually pitched a different idea first, but Eric (Homan, Frederator Studio’s VP of Development) said it was too gross.
Gee, it musta been like… real gross?
Yeah, yeah it was… anyway, it’s all a meat machine—“City Dwellers” definitely cannibalized another idea. I came up with the current version on a Greyhound to the northern-est part of Northern California. I love drawing dogs, so that’s where I started. Then I thought up Bruce and Biff, and they became dog-walkers. After that Halloween weekend in Arcata, I came back to LA and boarded it all out, wrote it and chose among about 14 different versions. In all, it was about a month between pitches.
A month? That’s a super fast turn around!
That’s freelancing! I’m used to working really fast. I’ve never had the luxury of taking a year to make a minute of animation look perfect.
What’s the most hectic job you’ve had?
Directing Cage the Elephant’s video for “Come a Little Closer”. I had a team – two animators, a composite artist, a colorist – but it was still a massive job for 6 weeks. I boarded it, made the animatic, and worked with the DP to mesh the live action with the animation. All the while I was fielding late night calls from the lead singer describing his ‘vision’ – the skeleton rips open his chest, and all of this crazy junk flies out! – and I’d just go along with it, half-asleep, knowing there was no way we’d be able to make it that complicated.
That sounds like a lot.
Oh yeah. Then there was the time they asked what the band should wear in front of the green screen. I said just, nothing green, and nothing sparkly. And they come back with, “Everything we have is sequined”. And it was. The composite artist had twice the job cleaning all that up. The music video thing is fun, but it’s definitely not low key.
Has a lot of your work been in music videos?
It’s been all over the place! But for a while, my brother and I were signed as
The Kolton Brothers, co-music video directors; I directed animation, he took live action. We partnered up for a video for Pepsi, and music videos for Gogol Bordello and The Belle Brigade, which was really cool. I also did a video for My Morning Jacket, and made a commercial for “Snoop Loops” cereal for Snoop Dogg’s video “Lavender,” a.k.a. the one where Snoop shoots Trump. But my freelance work has been pretty diverse; stuff for McDonalds, Bleacher Report, PayPal. And for a year and a half, I’ve been chief-animator for Circa News, making shorts start to finish on all sorts of topics—a favorite is one where I imagined Don Jr. and Eric Trump as Beavis and Butthead. It’s an awesome gig: a lot of creative freedom and very few notes.
Speaking of freedom… didn’t you ever want to work at a big studio?!
Nope. I’ve actually never applied—and I’m not planning to. In school (at California College of the Arts in Oakland) all of our professors were working professionals, and several were from Pixar. Nice enough people—but I always got a dentist office vibe from the place. Kind of… sterile.
Too weird for Pixar, too rare for Disney. Outside of freelancing, how much time do you have to work on your own projects?
Not a lot, but I make good use of the time I have. After I pitched “City Dwellers,” I had a lull so I created a short just for myself. “By the Name of Boston” is still going around festivals both in the US and internationally, which has been exciting. For independent filmmakers out there – I really recommend submitting to international festivals. I had awesome experiences at Monstra Festival of Animation in Portugal and Anifilm in the Czech Republic. A lot of these fests don’t charge a submission fee, and you have a good shot at getting in – they don’t receive as many films from the US as you’d think.
Do you have a favorite among your films?
Because I’m always making things, I’ve developed a kind of “submit and move on” mentality. But it’s probably split between the least strenuous project I’ve had and the most: “City Dwellers” and the Cage the Elephant video. Making “City Dwellers” was awesome because of the separation I got to have from it – I didn’t actually have to animate! I did some of the most fun stuff: designing, writing, boarding, casting, directing the VO – and had a great team to drive the rest of the work. “Come a Little Closer” was the opposite – there were some 20 hour days of non-stop animating.
Did you always know you wanted to animate?
I always knew what I liked – writing, comedy, drawing and acting. In high school I was very involved in theater, acting in plays and writing and directing them too. A one-act play I wrote and directed then was called “A Sandwich in the Thinking Room,” so you see the obsession with sandwiches is long-running. I’ve always said that if I wasn’t an animator, I would have made my own sandwich shop. But before anything else, I wanted to be a writer, so really that’s what led me to acting, improv, drawing. By the time I was going to school for animation, drawing was actually my weakest point. So that was where college helped me the most—I became a much better artist.
You know I have to do it to ya: what are your favorite cartoons?
When I was younger all I watched was Seinfeld and and cartoons. So that’s where my early development lies. It’s probably Rick and Morty, Venture Bros, Mission Hill, Home Movies, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Sheep in the Big City, Rugrats, Angry Beavers, and Rocko’s Modern Life.
Last up! Are you city folk, or country through and through?
I grew up in Arizona, so… suburbs. By a lot of desert. I like cities because there’s so much more going on, but when I had the chance to move to NY, I chose against it. Too much garbage and too many crowds. I could see myself living in the middle of a forest, but I’ve given up driving, so… I’d have to have a self-driving car to get there. But yeah, once I get my self-driving butler car, catch me out deep in the woods.
Thanks for the chat Grant! And for all y’all – watch City Dwellers on Cartoon Hangover. Like, right now. Like I can see you, not doing it. Do it. Right now.
Rebloggin’ for “City Dwellers” 1 year anniversary!